Nov 18, 2017, 8 min read
Written by Sarah Wagner
"My greatest achievement is taking an unknown single parent of ethnic minority background, without qualifications, and making her a global case study and role model. I love what I do, there are not enough hours in a day, and I am proud that my enthusiasm inspires others".
I met Madi about a year ago at an introduction session for trainees at the European Institutions in Brussels. Her public speaking skills were phenomenal; the entire plenary was in awe as she was delivering her speech. Her story of fighting against her abusive husband and, as a single mother, building an enterprise conglomerate out of nothing, stuck in my mind until today. Here she is:
Tell us a bit about your past. Do you have any childhood memories that shaped you?
"Focus is what we see in front of us, to know where we are going. We must always be focussed on driving ourselves forward and not look back. I reflect very little on the past. But I acknowledge that I am the woman I am today because of the strength of my two grandmothers, one Austrian, one Indian; as well as of my mother and my father. All four faced big challenges in their lives. In my father's case, it was the partition of India. In the case of my mother's family, it was moving across Europe during the war. The strength of knowing they faced challenges without complaint has given me the courage to always push forward. Today, I am fortunate to be able to influence the life of my grandson!"
Please describe the personal highlights of your career - which were particularly exciting, frightening or fulfilling moments?
"I cannot say I have career highlights; rather they were tests! Would I be able to overcome leaving school without a degree, without any certified skills? Would I accept being told I had too much enthusiasm for my banking job? Would I be able to fulfill the greater ambitions I had, other than 'just' being a mother? I love my kids dearly, but I wanted more for myself and them. Would I be able to overcome having been told many times that business was no place for a woman? That as a woman I would never succeed in anything that I wanted to do? And would I be able to change from being a victim to a change maker? Domestic violence almost made me give up on life. Those tests in my career led me to create my life the way I want to, every day, as an entrepreneur. Thank goodness for these tests!"
Why did you become an entrepreneur? In retrospect, were there any moments of regret or fear that would make you choose a different path today?
"No regrets! I genuinely would not trade my life with anyone else on this planet. Every day is a challenge, I will be honest. But every day is mine to succeed in. Being an entrepreneur is about freedom, It is about choices and it is about not making excuses. Why would I want to take a highly paid job and be sad at an office all day. Today, instead, I can surround myself with amazing people, fabulous challenges, and variety every day. Understanding that you are responsible for your own life choices puts you 100 percent in control!"
What is a difficult situation that you remember and how did you solve it?
"The most difficult situation I remember was having to recover from the physical violence of my ex-husband. I remember lying on the floor after he had repeatedly kicked me. It took me two days to be able to stand up fully after that beating. But that was the point when I decided that I had to take control of my life. I went to the doctor and he said 'it will never stop'. It was the start of me planning my exit from a life being controlled by others to a life where I would take responsibility for all of my actions, no matter how difficult. Of course, it was not just me I had to take care of in any of my actions but my two beautiful daughters as well."
How do you deal with setbacks?
"Whatever the set back, my attitude is to recognize that 'I allowed this to happen'. Therefore, I have to find a solution to get over it, go round it, or force my way through it. There is nothing that cannot be overcome. I just have to believe I can do it and find the answer. Very often people help me. Remembering other people’s case studies and examples is always motivation. It reminds me that there is no such thing as failure. Everything is a learning curve. I always ask myself 'What is the lesson that today’s setback is going to teach me?'"
What is the best and worst decision you have ever made? How do you make decisions?
"The best decision I ever made was to leave my violent husband. - However, I do not regret what happened to me because it gave me the strength to understand my true potential in life. I am who I am today because of the good and bad things that happened to me in my life.
The worst decision I ever made was to trust an agent of the UK Government to help me build my business, I didn’t know him and trusted the fact that he came with a government badge - as a result I lost my first business - but it was a great learning curve."
What is the goal of life for you?
"Life is to be lived - to the maximum every day. If I didn't change at least one person's life today, it has been a wasted day on earth for me. I believe that a smile or 'thank you' is as important as trying to make a major policy change. So I value every human being I come into contact with and try to make their day special by showing them appreciation. Try it! Just start saying 'thank you' to the street cleaner; to the person who cleans the toilet; buy a coffee for the old man or lady sitting in a coffee shop and strike up a conversation. Watch their eyes light up as a consequence of the fact that someone has spoken to them and recognized that they are not invisible. We speak about our lives as 'developing'. In reality, they are in regression. While talking about technology, we have forgotten the people around us. My life goal is to make people feel important by helping them turn their ideas into action, and ultimately create a better world by doing so."
What does it mean to be a “Social Capitalist”?
“I am a social capitalist. Once you create profit, you then have a choice of what you want to do with it. My choice is to use it for educating girls, empowering women, creating more entrepreneurs, inclusive diversity, and more empathy; all things I am really passionate about.
Madi Group is a group of private companies, social enterprises and NGOs. In short, we do social good with the capital we make, but we believe in making the capital first (of course in an ethical way!).”
You have a demanding job. How do you cope with the pressure?
"Pressure is always self-imposed! I do not have to do any of the things I do. Rather, I choose to do them all because I genuinely love what I do. I am fortunate to do what I love every day. There is no routine; each moment is different. So where is the pressure? If I choose to leave a certain task until the last moment, well, that is self-imposed pressure. The only thing I struggle with is that there are only twenty-four hours in the day."
You have been awarded “UK’s best boss”. What do you think makes yourself a good boss? What are you appreciated for?
“At MADI group, all is based on trust, not hours and holidays, no blame culture and no excuses. Each employee is empowered and many have even started their own businesses under the MADI group. It’s not about protecting my ideas or me anymore. It’s about teamwork and a sustainable economy.”
What does 'good leadership' mean to you? How does men's leadership style differ from women's?
"Leadership is actions, not words. Leadership is not about ego and praise, it is about doing what you believe is right and not looking away from injustice. I prefer not to be coined a leader but a changemaker because unless we change the world together we will not have a sustainable future for our children. Changemakers of today are men and women equally. We have to work together on a shared vision for a better world."
"Life is a blank piece of paper - whatever you write on it you can achieve. My goal is to support people facing challenges to identify their opportunities and achieve their goals.".
How do you represent entrepreneurs’ interests towards the European Institutions?
Europe has the potential to create entrepreneurs, to transform small companies into big ones, to empower innovators in taking projects from concept to commercialization. This will in turn create much needed jobs, improve social infrastructure and attract investment. Building such a strong foundation could help Europe become a global leader for knowledge and technology transfer.
Entrepreneurs and SMEs (small and medium enterprises) need support, genuine learnings from experience and direct hand-holding throughout the growth stages of business, from seasoned business people like me. They need knowledge on how to pitch and to be investment-ready, understand cultural differences in the markets they enter, and they need to know the shortest routes to the people who can help them fast.
The real drivers of growth in the European Union are the ideas from entrepreneurs, implemented by grass root projects. Unfortunately, projects such as the ‘Small Business Act’, the ‘Think Small First’ and the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 remain restricted to elites or mere paper concepts. There are no contacts for second-chance entrepreneurs. Existing platforms merely provide the opportunity for female entrepreneurs to complain to each other about the lack of concrete measures. What is needed is support to take ideas to action
What about work-life balance and 'having it all'? Do you think a woman has to choose between career and family?
"There is no such thing as universal work-life balance. I believe in treating people in a way so they can define and create their personal balance. Likewise, I have defined and created it for myself. At Madi Group, there are no working hours, no set holiday days, no 'CVs', no blame culture and no excuses. You do what you want, when you want. Unless we have an emergency project to deliver - then it requires 'all hands on deck'. I believe our success is based on a common understanding of the value of life and work between my team and me. Balance should be achieved for both men and women, just as equality should be. I did not change the way of managing and balancing my life because I am a woman. I cared for my children (or rather they cared for themselves) and I ran the business. All three of us are successful today, and my grandson benefits from the success of our family team. I don't have any guilt or regrets (except missing two or three Christmas plays of my daughters). I would not go back and change anything."
"My DNA is 'You must be the change you want to see - No Excuses'".
How much of your career was influenced by unforeseen circumstances? Which of the plans you made came true?
"At the start, my plan was developed on the spot as I was thrown into the water. Today, I understand that when you identify your true goal in life, you exceed your prior expectations and set new, much higher targets for yourself. I have exceeded my initial goal and now have had to set a new ambitious target and set myself up for success. A clear target ensures that all my activities have a focus and it is easier to say ‘no’ to the things that are a distraction. My life goal is to turn seven billion ideas into action, one for every person on the planet. So far I have achieved 33,000! I am wishing for a long life as I have a lot more ideas to implement."
How do you turn all of your ideas into practice?
“All my projects differ from each other, but they are all focused on education, empowerment, employment and entrepreneurship. My ten companies are example of ideas successfully turned into businesses.
Recently, I fulfilled another one of my ideas and ambitions, and reached one of my milestones: After having made all the excuses in this world, I finished my book Madi No Excuses! It took me a while as I had to fight all my fears of writing a book since I am not a writer, nor an academic, but I did it!
My book shows seven steps you have to go through in order to be where you want to be. It demonstrates the power of the blank piece of paper and of the commitment bead on the path to achieve your goal! It is not about how to do, it makes you do it. You need to rely upon yourself. You need to have the ‘yes I can’ attitude. Everybody is an entrepreneur, though not everybody is a business person. Ask for help, support and network. Focus. To release the scent of tea, you have to dips in a cup with hot water. Be the change you want to see.”
Have you been in situations when you were not taken seriously or ignored? How did you deal with them?
"I am a strong woman. I have been a victim of violence and psychological crimes and I will not be put in a similar position ever again. One of my biggest frustrations is that you cannot argue with egos. On the side of men, there are many who do not know or want to deal with strong women. Some highly educated and powerful women are difficult as well. So I stopped arguing. I make my point and then get on doing what I need to do. Actions always speak louder than words and life is short. I accept the help of both men and women around me and don't waste my time with those who do not. When other people support and promote my work, I can rise above those who did not believe in my abilities."
"Life is short, I don’t have time to argue. Actions always speak louder than words, so I get on and do it."
Do you have a mentor or anyone else who has supported you along the way? How did this person help you advance your career?
"I have five amazing mentors, all men, each one has helped me build a specified part of my life and business. Today one of those mentors is my equal mentee! I could not find a woman to challenge me or who would mentor me to help me so I don’t have a female mentor. But I do have some great women friends I use as a sounding board. My mentors all shared a few pieces of advice that have guided me through life. Some of these are:
Take care of yourself first, else you cannot help others.
Act immediately based on your own decisions and react immediately to those of others. Indecision is a weakness that causes tension. Don't be paralyzed by the fear of failure or success.
Lastly: pay it forward and give back as much as you can. Today I mentor 600 people around the world, both face-to-face and by email. As a result, I learn, they learn and they, in turn, pay it forward too. The cumulative effect is a more connected world."
Which woman inspires you and why? Do you have a motto or principle that has guided you through your career?
"Some women in history inspire me, because they had challenges to overcome and prove themselves when women really were regarded and invisible. My grandmothers inspire me. And my mother with her five daughters: no washing machine, no car! I think from this I chose my motto. Gandhi said 'You must be the change you want to see', Madi says 'You must be the change you want to see - NO excuses!'“
Do you have a favorite book or movie to recommend?
"My Book 'Madi No Excuses!' - It is your guide to turning your ideas into action. I have the ambition to turn seven billion ideas into actions, including the idea of 'Here She Is', I would also recommend, 'Think and Grow Rich' by Napoleon Hill about focussing on your personal goal, just like my book."
Which education do you recommend to pursue and which career to pick?
"I recommend everyone takes as much education as they can, providing it is adding value to their lives. I do not believe in qualifications, however (except those of doctors, lawyers etc). Sadly, there are many unemployed people with University degrees, but who lack the qualities employers require for the workplace. Today’s world is about problem-solving, innovation, an ability to listen and to be flexible. Universities do not teach this and hence we have a massive skills mismatch. It is why at Madi Group we don’t use CVs to recruit, neither do we require qualifications. We do our own assessment of candidates and apply our personal criteria.
Do what you love doing and do it with 100 percent conviction. Never do it for the money. You will recognize, as I do, that every day is a holiday and you are paid for being happy!"
What is your recommendation to young women for dealing with difficult situations?
"I recommend to everyone, including young women, to 'put your neck on the line'. Do what you say you can do. Don’t expect to get immediate pay-back for everything. Trust your abilities and have confidence in yourself. Do, or demonstrate, that your ideas work and see what happens as a result. Don't make excuses! I know at this point people are telling me all the reasons why this doesn’t work - but it does, try it without conditions!"